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COVID-19 Highlights Importance Of Trees – OpEd

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The importance of trees is once again being brought out into focus by the global fight against Covid- 19 because of the need of handwashing  and hygiene.

Trees are the basic sources of water.There are few resources, if any, more vital to life than water. Whether it be drinking water, or water in our homes for bathing and cleaning dishes, not one day goes by that we don’t need and use water. The average person uses an estimated 80-100 gallons of water per day. For many of us, having access to clean drinking water and running water in our homes is a necessity that we often take for granted. 

According the United Nations, 85 percent of the world’s population lives in the driest half of the planet, and 783 million people do not have access to clean water. 

The Role of Trees

Water availability has a direct impact on the health of forests and their inhabitants, which shows the importance of the relationship between forests and water. Trees are made up of more than 50 percent water and need a steady source of it in order to grow and stay healthy. A healthy 100-foot-tall tree can take 11,000 gallons of water from the soil and release it into the air again, as oxygen and water vapor, in a single growing season. They “drink” in the water using their small, hair-like roots. Water from the soil enters their roots and is carried up the tree’s trunk all the way to the leaves.

Trees serve as natural sponges, collecting and filtering rainfall and releasing it slowly into streams and rivers, and are the most effective land cover for maintenance of water quality. The ability of forests to aid in the filtration of water doesn’t only provide benefits to our health and the health of an ecosystem, but also to our pocketbooks. Forest cover has been directly linked to drinking water treatment costs, so the more forest in a source water watershed, the lower the cost to treat that water. Forests provide these benefits by filtering sediments and other pollutants from the water in the soil before it reaches a water source, such as a stream, lake or river.

Water and Covid-19

Since its discovery in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected entire nations across the world, destabilizing economies and threatening human lives on a massive scale. In just six months, the virus has infected more than 10 million people, with deaths mounting to half a million, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

In the Philippines, as of June 2020, the Department of Health (DOH) has documented more than 36,000 confirmed cases and almost 1,300 deaths. To prevent the spread of contagion thru direct and indirect transmission, along with other health measures, the Philippine government implemented strict community quarantine in mid-March in Luzon and other parts of the country. Working with the DOH, the WHO also issued guidelines in infection prevention and control, particularly constant handwashing and proper hand hygiene.

and-washing and proper hand hygiene is the first line of defense Sagainst the coronavirus, the WHO said. However, this fairly simple precaution is not available to everyone, particularly among the poorest living in slums, who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.

According to a 2019 report from the WHO and United Nations (UN), 40% of the global population— roughly 3 billion people— do not have basic handwashing facilities at home. Out of that number, 1.6 billion do not have access to soap and water, while 1.4 billion do not have any washing facility (private bathrooms and toilets.)

Citing it as a “global hygiene crisis,” the UN has already included access to washing facility and safe water as part of its sustainable development goals, as the organization aims to ensure everyone has access to “adequate and equitable hygiene” by 2030.

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“Without handwashing and adherence to good hygiene practices, the health and socio-economic benefits of improved water supply and sanitation cannot be fully realized and will impede progress towards many of the SDGs,” the UN said.

The lack of washing facility in many poor and developing countries becomes even more alarming, considering the surge of coronavirus cases. In most cases, the poorest bears the brunt of the burden.

In the Philippines, where lack of access to washing facilities and clean water is prevalent among the urban poor, such deficiency has resulted in thousands of deaths annually to water-borne diseases. In 2018, more than 22,000 Filipinos died from acute diarrhea and typhoid fever, according to the DOH.

As of now, there’s scant data regarding the effect of lack of washing facility and safe water and its correlation to the COVID-19. To have a clearer picture, one can only look at the number of people without proper sanitation and safe water in the Philippines to deduce that it poses a greater health risk now more than ever.

Critical importance of clean water and sanitation

“COVID-19 virus primarily spreads through droplet and contact transmission. Contact transmission means by touching infected people and/or contaminated objects or surfaces. Thus, your hands can spread virus to other surfaces and/or to your mouth, nose or eyes if you touch them,” according to “Safe Hands” campaign by the WHO. Hence, the health organization recommends frequent handwashing and proper hand hygiene to prevent the spread of the virus.

But what if there’s no water? According to data from Water.Org, nearly a quarter of the Philippine population— 24 million Filipinos— lack proper sanitation (washing facility), while almost 7 million Filipinos still lack access to clean and safe water.

While alcohol and sanitizers can be used, handwashing remains the preferred choice of the WHO, especially as some alcohol-based surgical hand rubs were already debunked to contain  “residual active ingredients.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention already recommended using alcohol with greater than 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol in healthcare settings.

“Closing inequality gaps in the accessibility, quality and availability of water, sanitation and hygiene should be at the heart of government funding and planning strategies. To relent on investment plans for universal coverage is to undermine decades worth of progress at the expense of coming generations,” said Kelly Ann Naylor, UNICEF’s Associate Director of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene.

“Investing in water, sanitation and hygiene is cost-effective and good for society in so many ways. It is an essential foundation for good health,” Naylor added.

Under normal circumstances, clean water is an extremely important resource that everyone should have access to. But in the time of pandemic, it’s more than a necessity or an investment; it’s literally your first line of defense. And it can save your life and those around you. :

No Trees, No Water No Life

Life could not exist on Earth without trees because they produce most of the oxygen that humans and wildlife breathe. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen using the process of photosynthesis. There would also be no rain without trees since trees absorb water from the soil and release it through evapotranspiration. Water vapor released through evapotranspiration is the major mechanism by which air is remoistened. Forests act as giant air filters for the world. 

Trees purify the air by absorbing pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, reducing pollution. Trees also help prevent topsoil erosion because they break the force of wind and rain on soil, their roots bind the soil, and their decayed, falling leaves are absorbed by the earth and enrich the soil. Trees conserve rainwater and reduce water runoff and sediment deposit after storms.Additionally, trees provide a supply of lumber, seeds, and fruit. Further, dead trees that fall and get buried in the soil eventually provide fossil fuels such as coal and petroleum products, among other things. Trees can also act as noise filters. Trees muffle urban clamor almost as well as walls do. Trees planted at strategic locations can decrease loud noises from airports and highways.

Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan

Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan

Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan wrote for the British Panos News and Features and GEMINI News Service, the Brunei Times, and US Environment News Service. In the Philippines, he wrote for DEPTHNews of the Press Foundation of Asia, Today, the Philippine Post, and Vera Files. A practicing environmentalist, he holds postgraduate degrees in environment resource management and development studies as a European Union (EU) Fellow at University College, Dublin, Ireland. He is currently a Fellow of Echoing Green Foundation of New York City. He now writes for Business Mirror and Eurasia Review.

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